Sanditon Boss Talks Capturing Jane Austen’s Feminist Voice
welcome to Screen sistersa collection of conversations about what it means to be a woman working in television in front of and behind the camera.
In addition to recognizing their contributions to the industry, the series will also examine the ups and downs of working in media, how far television has come, and how far it still needs to go.
This week we talk to executive producer Belinda Campbell, whose production company Red Planet Pictures is responsible for fan favorites including Death to Paradise and to Sanditon.
When Belinda Campbell started her career 25 years ago, she was in the EastEnders writers room giving her her contribution to the iconic early era of the Slater sisters.
Little Mo and Trevor? Who shot Phil? “You’re not my muvva…yes I am?!” Belinda was there to oversee it all, with the job proving her first big breakthrough in the industry. Starting out as a screenwriter, she became a series writer, producer and series producer on the beloved soap in the span of four years.
Since then, her professional trajectory has grown, now working as an executive producer at Red Planet Pictures, part of the Asacha Media group. Thanks to her, we have beloved shows including Death in paradise and Sanditon.
The role of an executive producer is, by Belinda’s own admission, quite flexible in what it means. For some, that might just be a big-name credit attached to a project — but for her, it means having a guiding hand in the creative decisions that make these shows what they are.
“The executive producer works with the producer to make sure the show they’re producing matches what’s been developed and commissioned by the forecasters,” she explains. “That’s probably the easiest way to sum it up. Executive producers can very well be working on more than one project at the same time, while developing other things at the same time, whereas a producer is totally immersed in this one production.”
As a result, it often involves a hell of a lot of hubs. In 2021 alone, Belinda was over Death in paradisetwo seasons of sanditas good as ITV limited series Our houseaired in March this year.
“I’m on the social and creative side of things,” she adds. “I feel the responsibility is on me to deliver the best program possible.”
Judging by the ratings of all these shows, she’s incredibly good at her job. The shows that Belinda helps create as managing director of Red Planet Pictures have amassed the kind of devoted fanbases that most boy bands would dream of, let alone TV shows.
Originally removed after a single season, sandit fans launched a viral campaign demanding that the Jane Austen adaptation be brought back. Dubbing itself the “Sanditon Sisterhood”, the numerous online campaigns resulted in hundreds of thousands of calls for the show’s return, with ITV eventually relenting and renewing the series. The fact that it’s called “brotherhood” itself tells you how important the particularly female fan base was in this case.
“This phenomenal ratings campaign to bring it back was really gratifying,” Belinda said of the devotion to the show. “It’s such a weird case, but in 25 years I’ve never had the experience of a lorry full of letters on my desk saying, ‘Please take it back! Please please bring it back!’ All that craftsmanship that was done, the social media campaign, the beach art… It was amazing. There are a sorority. It makes it feel like the hard work is worth it when you get that kind of response.”
There’s a power in a female fanbase that Jane Austen seems to tap more than most time and time again, with sandit and Netflix powerhouse Bridgerton simply causing the latest revival of interest in the Regency era, where women were courted and men were rakes and/or romantics.
But for Belinda, Austen’s authorial charm is rooted in feminism, with beloved writers’ characters often going against the norm of their time, even if by today’s standards they may seem somewhat outdated.
“There’s a way to read Jane Austen as being a radical feminist for her time,” Belinda explains. “She was one of the first writers to put that kind of female point of view at the heart of a novel. She wrote characters who were all striving to have more interesting lives. They’re really active protagonists who were the architects of their lives.
“Obviously we take it for granted now, but it really wasn’t a given back then and most of the writers were men, and women didn’t have that kind of agency. I think that’s what did sandit an incredibly exciting prospect for me, because it’s an unfinished Jane Austen novel. How often do we find little treasures? It was really like that, and it gave us the opportunity to kind of create this comeback series.
“We’ve always tried to follow his values as a writer, or what we perceive of them, because obviously you can read things through a lot of different lenses,” she adds. “But we chose to read it through the lens of someone who was kind of a prototype feminist who yearned for women to have more. To be educated. To have choice in marriage. To to marry for love. To have independence. She chose not to marry.”
The focus on women in Sandton, what makes the cast’s dapper young men secondary actors for the larger story, was something that was a deliberate decision by the creative team.
“One of the things about the three seasons of sandit what we have just done is that this is clearly a women’s story. It’s a story of women and their lives, their journeys, their hopes, their dreams and their romances,” says Belinda. “There’s a lot of different female-themed narratives in there, which is a very rewarding thing to do.”
Unfortunately, while Belinda is creating worlds in which women can thrive on their own terms, in reality, that can be a little easier said than done, especially when a successful career like the one she has often comes with the side effect of spinning plates to balance work, life and family.
When asked if there was anything she hoped to improve in the industry, the answer was simple: while there have certainly been changes in a positive direction, more consideration needs to be given to the hours and family demands.
“I think working hours are a big issue for women because I think it’s not the most family-friendly industry in the world, especially when you’re working in production,” he said. she declared. “We kind of moved away from the six-day week or the 11-day fortnight, which is a good thing.
“But I think if we could move to a world where childcare was really part of the framework of what we do…because it all boils down to that, for working women who want to have children, it’s is affordable and accessible child care.
“It’s an industry that’s not without its problems in terms of the treatment of women,” Belinda concludes. “But I think it’s getting better. I think the fact that women feel confident to speak out against bad behavior is a very important development, so I hope [in] the next generation, there will be no horror stories.
“The key to that is dealing with these issues in the moment and people feel they are able to report things and will be supported to do so.”
sandit season 2 is available on Britbox and will air on ITV later this year.